The Limits of Authorship: The Radio Broadcasts of Irene Greenwood, 1936-1954

John Richardson


The precise date of Greenwood's official association with the MAWF is not clear but she implies that it was shortly after her return to Perth in 1936.1 At this time she renewed a friendship with Katharine Susannah Prichard:

I never ceased to espouse Katharine Susannah Prichard because of the peace she had introduced me to and an exposure of an awareness on my part to the economic and political system - the capitalist system . . . . She pushed me into the Movement Against War and Fascism, but I was a willing victim.2

Prichard was a committed member of the CPA and as such followed the party's Stalinist line. Between 1931 and 1940 the CPA, as a section of the Comintern, took its directives from Moscow. In the early 1930s Stalin had ordered international Communism not to collaborate with the social democrats, whom he regarded as part of the capitalist support system. By 1937, however, the party line had softened and WA president Bill Mountjoy offered to cooperate with the ALP at elections in the hope of creating a united front against fascism, but this the ALP rejected.3 So far as the Labor Party was concerned the CPA was an "anti-working class organisation".4 Labor's opposition to communism was just as vigorous as that of the conservatives, but the CPA did find an ally in the local branch of the Gollancz Left Book Club.

The Gollancz Left Book Club (LBC) was established in the UK in May 1936. It was aimed at uniting the factions of the left in the hope of forming an international political coalition which would undercut conservative policies of appeasement.5 The Club circulated previously unpublished manuscripts which were directed against fascism and towards the prevention of war. The Perth branch organised week-end schools on peace topics. Its members included Colin Badger, then a Director of Adult Education, Frank Beasly, Professor of Law at the University of Western Australia and Greenwood herself.6

As the rise of fascism accelerated, the socialist front became increasingly strident about liberal democracy's inability to cope with the situation. For them, and in particular the MAWF, the realisation began to dawn that fascism would sooner or later have to be fought. But the socialist ideology of the united front was not Greenwood's only frame of reference for peace. The WSG and the conservative arm of the women's movement pinned their main hopes on organisations such as the League of Nations Union or the International Peace Campaign which advocated one or another form of non-violent intervention. These held firm to policies of world disarmament and opposition to both compulsory military training and private arms manufacture, they retained faith in intervention at the level of economic sanctions or international pressure from the western democracies. Mary Driver was a president of the International Peace Campaign, Greenwood was an executive member along with Bessie Rischbieth, M.B.Vallance of the WSG and Fred Alexander, who after the war established the WA division of the UN Associations of Australia.

Greenwood's involvement the MAWF and LBC, as well as the International Peace Campaign and League of Nations Union was not exceptional. For all the apparent tension between the conservative and socialist arms of the women's movement it was not uncommon for women to attend meetings of nominally opposed organisations, albeit in unofficial capacities. The peace issue cut across political divides and alliances. In general the same women were to be found at the meetings of both left and right peace rallies.7

For the feminists involved in the peace movement - and it was the women's organisations which were the real driving force behind the organised peace campaign in Perth - membership of the MAWF could not be unproblematically equated with a sympathy for the broader ideologies of communism. It was, after all, the spectre of war which most seriously challenged the unity of the home and the ideals of motherhood which these women cherished. As Greenwood put it in September 1939,

In my back yard the fig tree is budding. Tender green leaves carrying fruit on the trees - a long winter banished by sunshine. Spring in the garden, war in the world - its shadow moving over us. The tender youth of the world menaced is fruit of women's pain suffering and struggle [Greenwood's emphasis].8

With the stakes so high many women hedged their bets. Towards the close of the decade, however, it must have seemed to even the most conservative among them that the socialist critique of the crisis was the most coherent.

Greenwood's public sympathies with the policies of the two peace camps can be traced in her broadcasts. In July of 1937 she was linking Communism with Fascism as the twin threats to world peace. These were juxtaposed with the Western democratic alliance which was portrayed as "the one hope for salvation". The formula would have been unthinkable for a communist or fellow traveller:

I see the clash of ideologies, as the journalists are pleased to call the battle to the death (and it may even be to all our deaths) of the rival faiths of Fascism and Communism, as a struggle which might have been averted had the leaders of both parties sought to serve humanity and not Mammon and Power. And so, to me, the one hope for the salvation of the world is an alliance between the democratic countries of Great Britain, France, America and the Oslo countries such as was referred to in a sub-leader of our local press this week.9

But by the beginning of 1939 notions of Western democratic intervention and league internationalism in general had reached the limits of credibility. The League of Nations had failed to check either the Spanish Civil War or the 1936 Italian invasion of Abyssinia, in 1938 Hitler annexed Austria and in March 1939 the Nazis marched into Czechoslovakia. In this year, shortly after Jessie Street's own confirmation as a socialist, Greenwood was quoting Article 122 of the Soviet Convention directly. A script entitled "Nadeyshda Krupskaya (Widow of Lenin)"10 was the first of a series of pro-Soviet broadcasts. From this point onwards Greenwood would use the USSR as her utopian model whenever the opportunity presented itself. As the crisis in Europe steadily deepened she called for an East-West alliance as the last chance of staving off war:

I have spoken lately for the signing of a Soviet Pact between Britain and the only country whose military might, economic resources, and strategic position (not to mention ideological outlook, and long and faithful history of sentiment against aggression) could guarantee a real peace treaty.11

The signing of the Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact in August 1939 shattered these hopes and massively undermined the credibility of the CPA and its political satellites. Greenwood desperately attempted to rationalise the situation. Her diary entries continue:

Unbelievable information upsetting all calculations!! Is it a clever move by the USSR to split the Axis powers and save the world from war (otherwise inevitably moving towards climax). Or is it really a device to throw Capitalist nations at each others' throats to wage a modern war in all its frightfulness (bombing of civilian population and so on) and then to come in when a revolutionary state arises (as it did out of the last war). It is difficult for me to imagine how Russia could so suddenly switch sides over her foreign policy from that of "Indivisible peace and anti-Fascism" and turn about for "Peace and Democracy"!

Hitler's invasion of Poland and the outbreak of war cast further suspicions on Soviet integrity. By September Greenwood had swung back towards the democratic camp:

[Is] Russia's move into the South of Poland a forceful seizure of the Ukraine because the legal Government had fled or they didn't know if it was still in existence?

Was this pre-arranged as price of the Russian-German Pact. See Treaty of Bulsk-Litoosk where Russia lost this territory and remember she has some justice in her claim to it. But the cynicism with which she did it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. I agree with Professor Alexander [of the International Peace Campaign] that in the first place the signing of the treaty between Germany and Russia gave Hitler his carte blanche to march on Poland.

But for all these doubts and in the face of both institutional censorship and public hostility Greenwood continued to script the Soviet Union in as favourable a light as possible. Whatever the Soviet failings may have been on the broad political front, a part of its ideological outlook still corresponded with her own egalitarian goals.


1 Greenwood, "Go Proudly", n. pag.

2 Irene A. Greenwood and Grant Stone, "Katharine Susannah Prichard", 1975, Murdoch University, audio tape

3 Wells, p. 93.

4 Brown, p. 162.

5 Sheila Hodges, Gollancz: The Story of a Publishing House 1928-1978 (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1978), p. 138.

6 Margaret Brown, "West Australians and the World", is followed here with respect to the personnel and policies of the respective peace organisations.

7 Brown, p. 175.

8 Irene A. Greenwood, "War Diary", 1939-42, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University, 32 pages, n.pag.

9 Untitled script, A Women's Views The News, The Women's Session, writ. and prod, Irene A. Greenwood, The Australian Broadcasting Commission, 9 July 1937.

10 "Nadeyshda Konstantinova Krupskaya (Widow of Lenin)", Women in the International News, The Women's Session, writ. and prod., Irene A. Greenwood, The Australian Broadcasting Commission, 17 March 1939.

11 Greenwood, "War Diary", n. pag.

New: 25 March, 1996 | Now: 1 May, 2015